SAN DIEGO – The acquisitions of Josh Donaldson and Michael Saunders have depleted the inventory of surplus assets from which Alex Anthopoulos can trade from, which is what makes Dioner Navarro such an important piece for the Toronto Blue Jays.
The veteran backstop, redundant but still useful after the free-agent signing of Russ Martin, may well be the best trade chip the club still has that can be moved without hurting either the big-league club or the overall roster depth.
Dealing away more pitching in the quest for relief help or a second baseman after young starters Kendall Graveman and Sean Nolin were used to get Donaldson, and steady veteran J.A. Happ brought back for Saunders, would leave the Blue Jays dangerously thin in terms of arms.
Remember, the Blue Jays are hoping to add two or three relievers in the weeks ahead, too.
Highly touted prospects Daniel Norris and Roberto Osuna are coming, but trading them now removes the club’s insulation for when Mark Buehrle’s contract expires after the 2015 season and a call must be made on R.A. Dickey’s 2016 option. Up-and-comer Miguel Castro may factor in the bullpen next year and eventually the rotation, so he’ll be needed as well.
And with just enough position players to cover needs around the big-league diamond and few hitting prospects at the upper levels of the system, Navarro is probably the only guy they can subtract to add, with the movement of his $5-million salary providing all kinds of flexibility.
He can help the Blue Jays in a more limited role if he stays, too, which is what makes his fate so pivotal.
"We’re a better team with Dioner Navarro on this team, no doubt about it," Anthopoulos said Monday at the winter meetings. The interest in him "has been consistent. If we can find the right deal for him, he gets every day at-bats as a starter, we’ll look to do that for him. But at the same time, he’s a good player, he’s a valuable piece of this team, we think we can get him playing time, and we’re going to have to feel like it makes the team better because right now he’s a good piece for us."
Making the deal worthwhile is the tricky part, as Navarro is a free agent after the 2015 season and mid-range players in their walk years often fetch limited returns. But working in the Blue Jays’ favour is that the free-agent catching market is very weak and that Navarro – who posted a .712 OPS and a 2.3 WAR in 139 games, should cost less to acquire than other backstops available via trade, including Yasmani Grandal and Jason Castro.
Potential suitors could include the Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles Dodgers and Chicago Cubs, who were working on a deal with Arizona for Miguel Montero, according to Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi of Fox Sports.
Should the Blue Jays keep Navarro, Anthopoulos said the team "would communicate with him (about his role). We’re not at that point yet, but we’d let him know. The big thing for him is the opportunity to get the everyday job and catch over 100 games. If someone is going to use him in that role, they’re going to value him accordingly. Clearly if someone is going to have that spot for him, they’re going to have a need for him, they’re going to have a value for him, and we’ll probably be able to get something done where we can satisfy some needs, as well."
How exactly would Navarro fit if he stays?
Manager John Gibbons can envision him batting as high as sixth, cashing in on the opportunities sure to be created by the on-base abilities of Martin, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson 2-5.
"I love Dino," Gibbons said. "He can hit. He can flat-out hit."
From a roster configuration standpoint, particularly if Martin is able to handle Dickey’s knuckleball, it can work, too.
"He can catch, Martin’s going to need time off on certain days," Anthopoulos explained. "He can DH. (Justin) Smoak, if he wins the job out of spring training, does he keep the job the entire year? As we all know, players spend time on the disabled list, guys get banged up. … You end up getting at-bats for players and it works itself out."
Things you hear from a day spent hanging out in the lobby: